Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Idan Raichel Project Packs the Town Hall

Over the past nine years the lineup of artsy, eclectic Israeli rockers the Idan Raichel Project has comprised a global cast of over ninety musicians ranging in age from sixteen to ninety-three, bandleader/keyboardist Raichel revealed at his sold-out show last night at the Town Hall. That’s a formula for success if your goal is to be fluent in every global style of music ever invented. What did this particular twelve-piece incarnation of the band not play last night? Music from China, the North Pole, and Jamaica (they didn’t do any reggae). They did just about everything else, something akin to another Project from another era – that one led by Alan Parsons – but with a considerably deeper immersion in Middle Eastern and African grooves. The concert started slowly and built momentum steadily, up to an explosive, darkly bracing Ethiopian dance driven by spiraling flute, trumpet and alto sax over a slinky triplet rhythm. By this point, half the crowd – on the young side, and at least fifty percent female – had moved to the aisles, dancing and waving their glowsticks.

Raichel is a terse, elegant player who usually leaves the exuberance to the band (for a look at his more pensive, exploratory side, keep an eye out for his tremendously good forthcoming collaboration with Malian desert blues guitar star Vieux Farka Toure). In the beginning of the set, global influences flitted in and out of pretty standard if classically-tinged piano-based pop songs. An Iranian tar lute riff, an Egyptian snakecharmer flute motif, Rio rhythms and fetching habibi vocals from the group’s two dynamic, versatile frontwomen all made their way up into and out of the mix as the band almost imperceptibly brought the energy up, eventually rollicking their way through a bouncily hypnotic Afrobeat tune (these folks could teach Vampire Weekend a thing or two about energy and soul).

As the show went on, the band left the straight-up rock behind and dove deeply into global grooves. One of the encores could have been a Yemen Blues Middle Eastern jam, with oud and spiraling ney flute; a couple of others vamped on a rolling Ethiopian beat as the group lept and danced over it. The most intense of the night’s many solos (this group keeps most of them brief and leaves you wanting more) was during the loudest song, a roaring rai rock tune straight out of the Rachid Taha playbook, the guitar player building methodically to a savage Dick Dale-style blast of tremolo-picking. Not all of this came across as dead-serious, either. One track began with the percussionist playing a calabash which was sitting in a tub of water: while it was obviously not intentional, the popping beats alternating with the sound of pouring water evoked a bathroom more than it did a riverbank.

Beyond becoming the most eclectic rocker on the planet, Raichel’s ultimate motive is promoting peace. Obviously he feels that it’s worth repeating the old shibboleth that if we left the planet to the musicians instead of the priests and the mullahs, there would be no wars. Leading by example, blending cultures onstage, he drove his message home with a wallop. Has this band ever done the summer concert tour, places like Coachella? They ought to.

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March 16, 2012 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Yemen Blues Mix It Up

Yemen Blues are yet another one of the explosion of impossibly esoteric, pan-global, psychedelic dance bands to spring up in the last few years. They’re Israeli; they draw on influences as diverse as classic levantine dance music, Bollywood pop, Balkan brass, funk, Afrobeat and Yemeni Jewish themes. To say that their latest, self-titled album is a blend of all of these is true in the purest sense of the word since each of the songs here echoes pretty much all of those styles. A few of them don’t. The opening track features a squirrely low-register reed instrument playing a hypnotic riff against a choir of voices; the third track is a pretty straight-up, repetitive Bollywood pop tune. There are also two bracingly slinky oldschool Egyptian tunes here, the first with a suspenseful cinematic feel, the second taking a sudden shift into an eerie minor-key psychedelic soul interlude that rises with the horns and violin going full steam.

The rest are a pretty irresistible grab-bag of riffs and ideas from around the globe. Track number two is a brass band hip-hop levantine number with a fiery violin solo and a flute-driven interlude straight out of the Moody Blues circa 1969. The title track works a gentle, folk-rock tinged melody reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here that eventually builds to a bouncy cabaret vamp and then goes doublespeed.

What sounds like a Moroccan sintir tune builds a long one-chord jam suspensefully, picking up the energy as the horns circle like vultures and swoop in all together for the kill. A long, slow, imploring duet features vibraphone and oud; another begins with oud, shifts to Afrobeat and then a flute-driven soul interlude that wouldn’t be out of place in the Isaac Hayes catalog. The album winds up with a lively blend of Afrobeat and Bollywood. Yemen Blues play Central Park Summerstage on 7/31; early arrival (i.e. 2 PM) is advised.

May 4, 2011 Posted by | middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment